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May 31, 2016

SCOTUS order list inclludes a couple notable criminal appeal summary reversals

The Supreme Court returned from the long weekend with this long order list, which includes a few long per curiam decision in an habeas case from the Ninth Circuit (Johnson v. Lee) and a capital case from Arizona (Lynch v. Arizona). In addition, the Court denied cert in Tucker v. Louisiana, a case in which the constitutionality of the death penalty was directly challened and Justice Breyer (joined by Justice Ginsburg) dissented in an opinion that calls again for taking up this question.

Notably, the Ninth Circuit (and the criminal defendant) is the loser in Lee, whereas the capital defendant prevails in Lynch.  There was not dissent from the ruling in Lee, but Justice Thomas (joined by Jusice Alito) dissented from Lynch.

May 31, 2016 at 09:51 AM | Permalink

Comments

Breyer/RBG (while also making a catchall claim) focused in particular on geographical discrimination, suggesting the specific person involved was a borderline case that might in some other location not receive the d.p.

Posted by: Joe | May 31, 2016 10:30:42 AM

Breyer's dissent in Tucker raises one of the more interesting disparities in death penalty cases - the differences in prosecutorial decisions between counties. This distinction often makes more of a difference than any other.

However, it's also a distinction our current jurisprudence seems to encourage. By essentially delegating these decisions to juries with wide discretion to find the necessary features, we're letting these community distinctions be a key feature. Would other ways be better? Probably not. Mandatory death and judicial overrides have been rejected.

Right after the Supreme Court reinstated it, it seemed like genuine judicial oversight would become a factor to keep the specific reasons fairly narrow, but I doubt we'll go back to that. Instead, it seems that this discrepancy is not a bug and, after that, it's up to the adversarial system.

Posted by: Erik M | May 31, 2016 10:32:34 AM

Is the result here only a matter of local juries (which are encouraged by constitutional requirements) or does prosecutorial discretion also factor in? That might be addressed by use of state-wide central decision-making.

Posted by: Joe | May 31, 2016 1:11:16 PM

How is the geographic location of the prosecution, and consequent imposition of the death penalty, arbitrary? Doesn't venue for a murder prosecution normally lie in the geographic location (state, county, etc) where the murder was committed? Under Justice Breyer's logic, all impositions of the death penalty would be arbitrary. After all, if the defendant had committed the murder in a state without the death penalty, the defendant would not be subject to the death penalty.

Certainly there are differences between geographic locations regarding whether prosecutors are more likely to seek the death penalty or whether juries are more likely to impose it, and those difference may raise fairness issues, but it is the defendant who chooses where to commit the murder and thus determines where the prosecution will take place. The point that the defendant may have not received the death penalty if he/she had committed the murder somewhere else doesn't make geography arbitrary.

Posted by: Webb Wassmer | May 31, 2016 1:57:58 PM

"Certainly there are differences between geographic locations regarding whether prosecutors are more likely to seek the death penalty or whether juries are more likely to impose it, and those difference may raise fairness issues"

^
That's exactly the point.

Posted by: Erik M | May 31, 2016 2:18:17 PM

Jacqueline Nguyen eats a summary reversal--an Obama judge joining the Clinton judges in getting their opinions reversed.

Posted by: federalist | Jun 1, 2016 10:10:09 AM

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